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November 9, 2011, 6:39 PM CT

Beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf

Beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf
Robert Bindschadler, an emeritus glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, was the first person to ever walk on the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, in January 2008.

Credit: NASA

An international team of scientists funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will travel next month to one of Antarctica's most active, remote and harsh spots to determine how changes in the waters circulating under an active ice sheet are causing a glacier to accelerate and drain into the sea.

The science expedition will be the most extensive ever deployed to Pine Island Glacier. It is the area of the ice-covered continent that concerns researchers most because of its potential to cause a rapid rise in sea level. Satellite measurements have shown this area is losing ice and surrounding glaciers are thinning, raising the possibility the ice could flow rapidly out to sea.

The multidisciplinary group of 13 scientists, led by Robert Bindschadler, emeritus glaciologist of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will depart from the McMurdo Station in Antarctica in mid-December and spend six weeks on the ice shelf. During their stay, they will use a combination of traditional tools and sophisticated new oceanographic instruments to measure the shape of the cavity underneath the ice shelf and determine how streams of warm ocean water enter it, move toward the very bottom of the glacier and melt its underbelly.

"The project aims to determine the underlying causes behind why Pine Island Glacier has begun to flow more rapidly and discharge more ice into the ocean," said Scott Borg, director of NSF's Division of Antarctic Sciences, the group that coordinates all U.S. research in Antarctica. "This could have a significant impact on global sea-level rise over the coming century".........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


October 4, 2011, 10:01 PM CT

Oil spill and microbes

Oil spill and microbes
Scientists studied the interaction of the oil spill and microbes in Gulf of Mexico waters.

Credit: Luke McKay, University of Georgia

In the results of a newly released study, researchers explain how they used DNA to identify microbes present in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill--and the particular microbes responsible for consuming natural gas immediately after the spill.

Water temperature played a key role in the way bacteria reacted to the spill, the scientists found.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the results in this week's journal.

David Valentine and Molly Redmond, geochemists at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) conducted the study. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy supported it.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was unique, as per Valentine and Redmond, because it happened at such great depth and contained so much natural gas--predominantly methane, ethane and propane.

Those factors influenced the way bacteria responded to the spill.

In earlier studies, Valentine, Redmond and his colleagues showed that ethane and propane were the major hydrocarbon compounds consumed in June 2010, two months after the April spill.

By September 2010, the scientists discovered that these gases and all the methane had been consumed.

In May and June of 2010, the researchers observed that bacterial communities in the submerged plume were dominated by just a few types--Oceanospirillales, Colwellia and Cycloclasticus--and were very different from control samples without large concentrations of oil or gas.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


August 4, 2011, 8:16 AM CT

Carbon hitches a ride from field to market

Carbon hitches a ride from field to market
Based on US crop production, scientists determined which American regions are carbon sinks, or those that take in more carbon than release it, and carbon sources, or those that release more carbon than they take in. Their calculations showed that the most agriculturally active regions, shown in blue, are carbon sinks while the regions with larger populations, shown in red, are carbon sources.

Credit: PNNL

Today, farming often involves transporting crops long distances so consumers from Maine to California can enjoy Midwest corn, Northwest cherries and other produce when they are out of season locally. But it isn't just the fossil fuel needed to move food that contributes to agriculture's carbon footprint.

New research reported in the journal Biogeosciences provides a detailed account of how carbon naturally flows into and out of crops themselves as they grow, are harvested and are then eaten far from where they're grown. The paper shows how regions that depend on others to grow their food end up releasing the carbon that comes with those crops into the atmosphere.

"Until recently, climate models have assumed that the carbon taken up by crops is put back into nature at the same place crops are grown," said the paper's main author, environmental scientist Tristram West of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Our research provides a more accurate account of carbon in crops by considering the mobile nature of today's agriculture".

West works out of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland. His co-authors are scientists at PNNL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Colorado State University.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


July 7, 2011, 9:06 AM CT

wildfires: still a wide open climate question

wildfires: still a wide open climate question
CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research scientist, Dr Melita Keywood. (CSIRO)
How the frequency and intensity of wildfires and intentional biomass burning will change in a future climate requires closer scientific attention, as per CSIRO's Dr Melita Keywood.

5 July 2011.

Dr Keywood said it is likely that fire - one of nature's primary carbon-cycling mechanisms - will become an increasingly important driver of atmospheric change as the world warms.

"Understanding changes in the occurrence and magnitude of fires will be an important challenge for which there needs to be a clear focus on the tools and methodologies available to researchers to predict fire occurrence in a changing climate".

She said the link between long-term climate change and short-term variability in fire activity is complex, with multiple and potentially unknown feedbacks.

"Fires require fuel to burn and climate strongly affects the type, quantity and quality of fuel. Periods of high rainfall or high atmospheric carbon dioside levels may result in increased biomass growth so that fuel loads appears to be enhanced in future fire seasons.

"Reduced water availability linked to drought may also result in drier biomass that is more readily burned in possibly more intense fires, while higher temperatures and other extreme weather may lengthen fire seasons and result in increased likelihood of fire ignitions and longer burning periods. Vegetation types are also altered in a changing climate.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


July 5, 2011, 8:35 PM CT

How hot did Earth get in the past?

How hot did Earth get in the past?
The question seems simple enough: What happens to the Earth's temperature when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase? The answer is elusive. However, clues are hidden in the fossil record. A newly released study by scientists from Syracuse and Yale universities provides a much clearer picture of the Earth's temperature approximately 50 million years ago when CO2 concentrations were higher than today. The results may shed light on what to expect in the future if CO2 levels keep rising.

The study, which for the first time compared multiple geochemical and temperature proxies to determine mean annual and seasonal temperatures, is published online in the journal Geology, the premier publication of the Geological Society of America, and is forthcoming in print Aug. 1.

SU Alumnus Caitlin Keating-Bitonti '09 is the corresponding author of the study. She conducted the research as an undergraduate student under the guidance of Linda Ivany, associate professor of earth sciences, and Scott Samson, professor of earth sciences, both in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences. Early results led the team to bring in Hagit Affek, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Yale University, and Yale Ph.D. candidate Peter Douglas for collaborative study. The National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society funded the research.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


June 22, 2011, 10:43 PM CT

2004 Sumatra earthquake deadliest in history

2004 Sumatra earthquake deadliest in history
At a typical subduction zone, the fault ruptures primarily along the boundary between the two tectonic plates and dissipates in weak sediments (a), or ruptures along "splay faults" (b); in either case, stopping far short of the trench. In the area of the 2004 Sumatra earthquake, sediments are thicker and stronger, extending the rupture closer to the trench for a larger earthquake and, due to deeper water, a much larger tsunami.

Credit: UT Austin

An international team of georesearchers has discovered an unusual geological formation that helps explain how an undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in December 2004 spawned the deadliest tsunami in recorded history.

Instead of the usual weak, loose sediments typically found above the type of geologic fault that caused the earthquake, the team found a thick plateau of hard, compacted sediments. Once the fault snapped, the rupture was able to spread from tens of kilometers below the seafloor to just a few kilometers below the seafloor, much farther than weak sediments would have permitted. The extra distance allowed it to move a larger column of seawater above it, unleashing much larger tsunami waves.

"The results suggest we should be concerned about locations with large thicknesses of sediments in the trench, particularly those which have built marginal plateaus," said Sean Gulick, research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. "These may promote more seaward rupture during great earthquakes and a more significant tsunami".

The team's results appear this week in an article lead-authored by Gulick in an advance online publication of the journal Nature Geoscience

The team from The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, The Agency for the Evaluation and Application of Technology in Indonesia and The Indonesia Institute for Sciences used seismic instruments, which emit sound waves, to visualize subsurface structures.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


June 5, 2011, 8:51 PM CT

Carbon release to atmosphere 10 times faste now

Carbon release to atmosphere 10 times faste now
The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times as fast as during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.9 million years ago, the best analog we have for current global warming, as per an international team of geologists. Rate matters and this current rapid change may not allow sufficient time for the biological environment to adjust.

"We looked at the PETM because it is believed to be the best ancient analog for future climate change caused by fossil fuel burning," said Lee R. Kump, professor of geosciences, Penn State.

However, the scientists note in the current issue of Nature Geoscience, that the source of the carbon, the rate of emission and the total amount of carbon involved in this event during the PETM are poorly characterized.

Investigations of the PETM are commonly done using core samples from areas that were deep sea bottom 55.9 million years ago. These cores contain layers of calcium carbonate from marine animals that can show whether the carbon in the carbonate came from organic or inorganic sources. Unfortunately, when large amounts of greenhouse gases --carbon dioxide or methane -- are in the atmosphere, the oceans become more acidic, and acid dissolves calcium carbonate.

"We were concerned with the fidelity of the deep sea records," said Kump. "How do we determine the rate of change of atmospheric carbon if the record is incomplete? The incomplete record makes the warming appear more abrupt".........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


May 8, 2011, 9:33 PM CT

Central Andean backarc potential for great earthquake?

Central Andean backarc potential for great earthquake?
Ben Brooks, 'O. Ozcacha and Todd Ericksen stand next to one of the GPS stations that was used in the study.

Credit: Image courtesy Ben Brooks, SOEST/UHM

The region east of the central Andes Mountains has the potential for larger scale earthquakes than previously expected, as per a newly released study posted online in the May 8th edition of Nature Geoscience Prior research had set the maximum expected earthquake size to be magnitude 7.5, based on the relatively quiet history of seismicity in that area. This newly released study by scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) and his colleagues contradicts that limit and instead suggests that the region could see quakes with magnitudes 8.7 to 8.9.

Benjamin Brooks, Associate Researcher in the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UHM and his colleagues used GPS data to map movement of the Earth's surface in the Subandean margin, along the eastern flank of the Andes Mountains. They report a sharp decrease in surface velocity from west to east. "We relate GPS surface movements to the subsurface via deformation models", says Brooks. "In this case, we use a simple elastic model of slip on a buried dislocation (fault) and do millions of Monte Carlo simulations to determine probability distributions for the model parameters (like slip, width, depth, dip, etc.)." From these data, the scientists conclude that the shallow section in the east of the region is currently locked in place over a length of about 100 km, allowing stress to build up as the tectonic plates in the region slowly move against each other. Rupture of the entire locked section by one earthquake could result in shaking of magnitudes up to 8.9, they estimate.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


May 4, 2011, 5:22 PM CT

Air pollution near Michigan schools

Air pollution near Michigan schools
-Air pollution from industrial sources near Michigan public schools jeopardizes children's health and academic success, as per a newly released study from University of Michigan researchers.

The scientists observed that schools located in areas with the state's highest industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates---an indicator of poor health---as well as the highest proportions of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.

The scientists examined the distribution of all 3,660 public elementary, middle, junior high and high schools in the state and observed that 62.5 percent of them were located in places with high levels of air pollution from industrial sources.

Minority students appear to bear the greatest burden, as per a research team led by Paul Mohai of the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and Byoung-Suk Kweon of the U-M Institute for Social Research.

The scientists observed that while 44.4percent of all white students in the state attend schools located in the top 10 percent of the most polluted locations in the state, 81.5 percent of all African American schoolchildren and 62.1 percent of all Hispanic students attend schools in the most polluted zones.

The study results are published in the May edition of the journal Health Affairs. Mohai and Kweon presented their findings today at a Washington, D.C., forum sponsored by Health Affairs.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


May 4, 2011, 4:22 PM CT

Analysis of National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska

Analysis of National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska
"The USGS conducts evaluation updates to re-evaluate petroleum potential as new data and information become available," said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. "Understanding how much undiscovered, technically recoverable resource might be present serves as a basis for calculating how much might be economically developed."

the U.S. Geological Survey evaluation on the economic recoverability of undiscovered, conventional oil and gas resources within the NAtional pEtroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) and adjacent state waters is now available.

THis economic analysis is based on a 2010 USGS resource evaluation that determined how much undiscovered, conventional oil and gas in the NPRA is technically recoverable. these reports provide updates from the USGS 2003 economic analysis and 2002 resource evaluation of the NPRA.

Technically recoverable resources are those that could be potentially produced using current technology and industry practices. Economically recoverable resources are those that can be sold at a price that covers the costs of discovery, development, production and transportation to the market.

The new economic analysis estimates that approximately 273 million barrels of undiscovered oil are economically recoverable at an oil price of $72 per barrel (comparable to $8 per thousand cubic feet of gas). About 500 million barrels of undiscovered oil are economically recoverable at $90 per barrel (comparable to $10 per thousand cubic feet of gas). These estimates do not include the discovered oil accumulations in northeastern NPRA that have still not been developed.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


April 7, 2011, 8:48 AM CT

Precedent-setting and biodiversity

Precedent-sEtting and biodiversity
The loss of biodiversity through species extinctions may be compromising the ability of the planet to cleanse itself of human-caused pollution.

Credit: © 2011 Jupiter Images Corporation

Frequent reports of accelerating species losses invariably raise questions about why such losses matter and why we should work to conserve biodiversity.

Biologists have traditionally responded to such questions by citing societal benefits that are often presumed to be offered by biodiversity--benefits like controlling pests and diseases, promoting the productivity of fisheries, and helping to purify air and water, among a number of others. Nevertheless, a number of of these presumed benefits are have yet to be supported by rigorous scientific data.

But Bradley J. Cardinale of the University of Michigan has produced a newly released study that finally verifies that biodiversity promotes water quality and explains how it does so. Specifically, the study reveals how biodiversity helps remove excess levels of nutrients from streams that usually degrade water quality.

Cardinale said, "This is the first study that nails the mechanism by which biodiversity promotes water quality. And by nailing the mechanism, it provides solid evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between biodiversity and water quality that was previously missing".

Here's how Cardinale's mechanism works: as the number of species of algae in a stream increases, the geographical distribution of these organisms within the stream expands, and the more water these widely distributed organisms may cleanse through a pollution-removing process common to algae.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


April 7, 2011, 8:40 AM CT

Some People's Climate Beliefs Shift With Weather

Some People's Climate Beliefs Shift With Weather
Photo by domediart, Flickr
Social researchers are struggling with a perplexing earth-science question: as the power of evidence showing manmade global warming is rising, why do opinion polls suggest public belief in the findings is wavering? Part of the answer appears to be that some people are too easily swayed by the easiest, most irrational piece of evidence at hand: their own estimation of the day's temperature.

In three separate studies, scientists affiliated with Columbia University's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) surveyed about 1,200 people in the United States and Australia, and observed that those who thought the current day was warmer than usual were more likely to believe in and feel concern about global warming than those who thought the day was uncommonly cold. A new paper describing the studies appears in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler," said main author Ye Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Columbia Business School's Center for Decision Sciences, which is aligned with CRED. "It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced." The study says that "these results join a growing body of work show that irrelevant environmental information, such as the current weather, can affect judgments...... By way of analogy, when asked about the state of the national economy, someone might look at the amount of money in his or her wallet, a factor with only trivial relevance".........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 31, 2011, 11:04 PM CT

Extra-Cold Winters in Northeastern North America

Extra-Cold Winters in Northeastern North America
Snow cover over North America and Europe in March, 2003, as imaged by a satellite instrument.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio; George Riggs (NASA/SSAI)

If you're sitting on a bench in New York City's Central Park in winter, you're probably freezing.

After all, the average temperature in January is 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

But if you were just across the pond in Porto, Portugal, which shares New York's latitude, you'd be much warmer--the average temperature is a balmy 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

Throughout northern Europe, average winter temperatures are at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than similar latitudes on the northeastern coast of the United States and the eastern coast of Canada.

The same phenomenon happens over the Pacific, where winters on the northeastern coast of Asia are colder than in the Pacific Northwest.

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now found a mechanism that helps explain these chillier winters--and the culprit is warm water off the eastern coasts of these continents.

"These warm ocean waters off the eastern coasts actually make it cold in winter--it's counterintuitive," says Tapio Schneider, a geoscientist at Caltech.

Schneider and Yohai Kaspi, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, describe their work in a paper reported in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature.

"This research makes a novel contribution to an old problem," says Eric DeWeaver, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 31, 2011, 10:57 PM CT

EarthScope Seismic Sensors Head East of the Mississippi

EarthScope Seismic Sensors Head East of the Mississippi
EarthScope Transportable Array Station 345A is about 15 miles northwest of Columbia, Miss.

Credit: Image courtesy of IRIS

Most seismic activity--and earthquakes--have been in the U.S. West. But the East is not out of the woods in terms of risk, geologists say.

After a six-year march eastward from the U.S. West Coast, the EarthScope Transportable Array seismic network has reached a major milestone: installation of the first Transportable Array station east of the Mississippi River.

Station 345A, located on a private farm about 15 miles northwest of Columbia, Miss., will operate for the next two years, continuously recording ground motion from local, regional and global earthquakes.

The Transportable Array is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded EarthScope project, an integrated Earth science effort to explore the structure, evolution and dynamics of the North American continent.

EarthScope has additional support from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Transportable Array is constructed, operated and maintained by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) as part of EarthScope.

"Research using data from the Transportable Array has already improved our understanding of the structure and dynamics of the western United States," says Greg Anderson, NSF program director for EarthScope.

"With the arrival of the Transportable Array in the eastern United States," Anderson says, "researchers will derive new insights about the older core of our continent and processes correlation to the formation and modification of continents over geologic time.".........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 31, 2011, 7:13 AM CT

Newly discovered natural arch in Afghanistan

Newly discovered natural arch in Afghanistan
Wildlife Conservation Society scientists working in Afghanistan recently discovered one of the largest natural stone arches in the world.

Credit: Ayub Alavi

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society have stumbled upon a geological colossus in a remote corner of Afghanistan: a natural stone arch spanning more than 200 feet across its base.

Located at the central highlands of Afghanistan, the recently discovered Hazarchishma Natural Bridge is more than 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) above sea level, making it one of the highest large natural bridges in the world. It also ranks among the largest such structures known.

"It's one of the most spectacular discoveries ever made in this region," said Joe Walston, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program. "The arch is emblematic of the natural marvels that still await discovery in Afghanistan".

Wildlife Conservation Society staff Christopher Shank and Ayub Alavi discovered the massive arch in late 2010 in the course of surveying the northern edge of the Bamyan plateau for wildlife (the landscape is home to ibex and urial wild sheep) and visiting local communities.

After making the discovery, they returned to the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge (named after a nearby village) in February 2011 to take accurate measure of the natural wonder. The total span of arch�the measurement by which natural bridges are ranked�is 210.6 feet in width, making it the 12th largest natural bridge in the world. This finding pushes Utah's Outlaw Arch in Dinosaur National Monument�smaller than Hazarchishma by more than four feet�to number 13 on the list.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 30, 2011, 7:13 AM CT

Communicating uncertain climate risks

Communicating uncertain climate risks
The authors of a recent Perspectives piece in the journal Nature Climate Science say it is not enough to intuit the success of climate communications. They contend the evaluation of climate communication should be met with the same rigor as climate science itself. Here, someone uses the 220 megapixel HiPerWall display at the University of California, San Diego to discuss 10 time varying Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change simulation runs.

Credit: Falko Kuester, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), University of California, San Diego

Despite much research that demonstrates potential dangers from climate change, public concern has not been increasing.

One theory is that this is because the public is not intimately familiar with the nature of the climate uncertainties being discussed.

"A major challenge facing climate researchers is explaining to non-specialists the risks and uncertainties surrounding potential" climate change, says a new Perspectives piece published recently in the science journal Nature Climate Change.

The article attempts to identify communications strategies needed to improve layman understanding of climate science.

"Few citizens or political leaders understand the underlying science well enough to evaluate climate-related proposals and controversies," the authors write, at first appearing to support the idea of specialized knowledge--that only climate researchers can understand climate research.

But, author Baruch Fischhoff quickly dispels the notion. "The goal of science communication should be to help people understand the state of the science," he says, "relevant to the decisions that they face in their private and public lives".

Fischhoff, a social and decision scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Nick Pidgeon, an environmental psychology expert at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom wrote the article together, titled, "The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks".........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 26, 2011, 10:13 PM CT

ANtarctic Icebergs and GLobal Carbon Cycle

ANtarctic Icebergs and GLobal Carbon Cycle
Iceberg
In a finding that has global implications for climate research, researchers have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

An interdisciplinary research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted the research this month in the journal Nature Geosciences.

The research indicates that "iceberg transport and melting have a role in the distribution of phytoplankton in the Weddell Sea," which was previously unsuspected, said John J. Helly, director of the Laboratory for Environmental and Earth Sciences with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Helly was the main author of the paper, "Cooling, Dilution and Mixing of Ocean Water by Free-drifting Icebergs in the Weddell Sea," which was first reported in the journal Deep-Sea Research Part II.

The results indicate that icebergs are particularly likely to influence phytoplankton dynamics in an area known as "Iceberg Alley," east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the portion of the continent that extends northwards toward Chile.

The latest findings add a new dimension to prior research by the same team that altered the perception of icebergs as large, familiar, but passive, elements of the Antarctic seascape. The team previously showed that icebergs act, in effect, as ocean "oases" of nutrients for aquatic life and sea birds.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 26, 2011, 10:09 PM CT

Algae and bacteria hogged oxygen after ancient mass extinction

Algae and bacteria hogged oxygen after ancient mass extinction
A distant view of the field area in the Nanpanjiang Basin in south China where limestone contained evidence of a slow recovery of marine animal populations after the mass extinction 250 million years ago.
A mass extinction is hard enough for Earth's biosphere to handle, but when you chase it with prolonged oxygen deprivation, the biota ends up with a hangover that can last millions of years.

Such was the situation with the greatest mass extinction in Earth's history 250 million years ago, when 90 percent of all marine animal species were wiped out, along with a huge proportion of plant, animal and insect species on land.

A massive amount of volcanism in Siberia is widely credited with driving the disaster, but even after the immense outpourings of lava and toxic gases tapered off, oxygen levels in the oceans, which had been depleted, remained low for about 5 million years, slowing life's recovery there to an unusual degree.

The reason for the lingering low oxygen levels has puzzled scientists, but now Stanford scientists have figured out what probably happened. By analyzing the chemical composition of some then-underwater limestone beds deposited over the course of the recovery in what is now southern China, they have determined that while it took several million years for most ecosystems in the ocean to recover, tiny single-celled algae and bacteria bounced back much more quickly.

In fact, as per biogeochemist Katja Meyer, the tiny organisms rebounded to such an extent that the bigger life forms couldn't catch a break - much less their breath - because the little ones were enjoying a sustained population explosion.........

Posted by: William      Read more         Source


March 20, 2011, 9:59 PM CT

Climate change hits home

Climate change hits home
Direct experience of extreme weather events increases concern about climate change and willingness to engage in energy-saving behaviour, as per a new research paper reported in the first edition of the journal Nature Climate Change this week.

In particular, members of the British public are more prepared to take personal action and reduce their energy use when they perceive their local area has a greater vulnerability to flooding, as per the research by Cardiff and Nottingham universities.

Eventhough no single flooding event can be attributed to climate change, Britain has experienced a series of major flood events over the past decade, something which is expected to increase in years to come as a result of climate change.

Psychology expert Dr Alexa Spence, now at the University of Nottingham, said: "We know that a number of people tend to see climate change as distant, affecting other people and places. However experiences of extreme weather events like flooding have the potential to change the way people view climate change, by making it more real and tangible, and ultimately resulting in greater intentions to act in sustainable ways".

The research team and Ipsos-MORI surveyed 1,822 members of the British public to test whether personal experience of flooding had affected perceptions about climate change. They also looked at whether those perceptions would affect respondents' intentions regarding energy use. The study revealed that people who reported flooding experiences had significantly different perceptions of climate change, in comparison to those who had not experienced flooding. These perceptions were, in turn correlation to a greater preparedness to save energy. In particular:........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 20, 2011, 9:56 PM CT

Think globally, but act locally

Think globally, but act locally
The endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly experiences pressures in Southern California from climate change, but also urban development, invasive species and pollution.

Credit: Lawrence Gilbert and Michael C. Singer. The University of Texas at Austin.

Global warming is clearly affecting plants and animals, but we should not try to tease apart the specific contribution of greenhouse gas driven climate change to extinctions or declines of species at local scales, biologists from The University of Texas at Austin advise.

Camille Parmesan, Michael C. Singer and their coauthors published their commentary online this week in Nature Climate Change

"Yes, global warming is happening. Yes, it is caused by human activities. And yes, we've clearly shown that species are impacted by global warming on a global scale," says Parmesan, associate professor of integrative biology.

Policy makers have been recently pressing biologists to dissect how much of the changes observed in wild species are due specifically to greenhouse gas driven climate change verses other possible factors, including natural changes in the climate.

However, research funding is limited, and the researchers feel it should be directed more toward studies on species adaptations and conservation of compromised species rather than trying to figure what percent of each species' decline is due to rising greenhouse gases. One reason is that, from the perspective of wildlife, it doesn't matter what proportion of climate-change impacts are caused by humans.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 18, 2011, 10:06 PM CT

Can Biochar Help Suppress Greenhouse Gases?

Can Biochar Help Suppress Greenhouse Gases?
Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a precursor to compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone. Intensively managed, grazed pastures are responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals' excrement. Biochar is potentially a mitigation option for reducing the world's elevated carbon dioxide emissions, since the embodied carbon can be sequestered in the soil. Biochar also has the potential to beneficially alter soil nitrogen transformations.

Laboratory tests have indicated that adding biochar to the soil could be used to suppress nitrous oxide derived from livestock. Biochar has been used for soil carbon sequestration in the same manner.

In a study funded by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology,researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, conducted an experiment over an 86-day spring/summer period to determined the effect of incorporating biochar into the soil on nitrous oxide emissions from the urine patches produced by cattle. Biochar was added to the soil during pasture renovation and gas samples were taken on 33 different occasions. The study was reported in the March/April 2011 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Addition of biochar to the soil allowed for a 70% reduction in nitrous oxide fluxes over the course of the study. Nitrogen contribution from livestock urine to the emitted nitrous oxide decreased as well. The incorporation of biochar into the soil had no detrimental effects on dry matter yield or total nitrogen content in the pasture.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source


March 17, 2011, 10:39 PM CT

Wind and solar energy

Wind and solar energy
This is the Kahuku Wind Project, which was included in the Oahu Wind Integration Study.

Credit: Hawaiian Electric Company

When combined with on-Oahu wind farms and solar energy, the Interisland Wind project planned to bring 400 megawatts (MW) of wind power from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu could reliably supply more than 25% of Oahu's projected electricity demand, as per the Oahu Wind Integration Study (OWIS).

For the purposes of the research project, the OWIS released recently studied the impact on the Oahu grid of a total of 500 MW of wind energy and a nominal 100 MW of solar power, though a good deal more utility-scale and customer-sited solar power is expected on Oahu.

The study observed that the 500 MW of wind and 100 MW of solar power could eliminate the need to burn approximately 2.8 million barrels of low sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) and 132,000 tons of coal each year while maintaining system reliability, if many recommendations are incorporated, including:.
  • Provide state-of-the-art wind power forecasting to help anticipate the amount of power that will be available from wind;.
  • Increase power reserves (the amount of power that can be called upon from operating generators) to help manage wind variability and uncertainty in wind power forecasts;.
  • Reduce minimum stable operating power of baseload generating units to provide more power reserves; .
  • Increase ramp rates (the time it takes to increase or decrease output) of Hawaiian Electric's thermal generating units;.........

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March 15, 2011, 10:42 PM CT

Golf courses that reuse water

Golf courses that reuse water
Irrigation is one of the most controversial aspects in the sustainable management of golf courses.

Credit: SINC

Irrigation is one of the most controversial aspects in the sustainable management of golf courses. Scientists from the Canary Islands have spent 25 years analysing the practices relating to reclaimed water at one of the oldest golf courses in Spain. The results show that plants on the course receive 83% more water than they need.

"Excessive amounts of water are used, and this cannot be justified from any perspective", Mar�a del Pino Palacios D�az, main author of the study and a researcher at the Department of Animal Pathology, Animal Production and Food Science and Technology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, tells SINC.

Despite the high cost of water (around �0.4 per cubic meter), the amount of water used on golf courses in the Canary Islands continues to be "excessive". On the golf course studied, plants receive more than 83% more water than they need, which reduces the risk of substances accumulating in the soil, but increases the risk of contaminating the aquifer.

The scientists have confirmed this on the basis of a "detailed" analysis of the nutrients and other substances contained in the reclaimed water, and by studying how this is absorbed by the soil and plants, how it travels through the unsaturated area, and the likelihood of it reaching the aquifer.........

Posted by: Jim      Read more         Source


March 10, 2011, 7:57 AM CT

Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction

Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction
Earth's warming climate is contributing to an infection responsible for tropical frog extinctions.

Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

With the steep decline in populations of a number of animal species, researchers have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction like those that have occurred just five times during the past 540 million years.

Each of these "Big Five" saw three-quarters or more of all animal species go extinct.

In results of a study published in this week's issue of journal Nature, scientists report on an evaluation of where mammals and other species stand today in terms of possible extinction compared with the past 540 million years.

They find cause for hope--and alarm.

"If you look only at the critically endangered mammals--those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations--and assume that their time will run out and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm," said Anthony Barnosky, an integrative biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, and first author of the paper.

Barnosky is also a curator in the university's Museum of Paleontology and a research paleontologist in its Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

"A modern global mass extinction is a largely unaddressed hazard of climate change and human activities," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.........

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March 10, 2011, 7:52 AM CT

California Islands Give Up Evidence of Early Seafaring

California Islands Give Up Evidence of Early Seafaring
Evidence for a diversified sea-based economy among North American inhabitants dating from 12,200 to 11,400 years ago is emerging from three sites on California's Channel Islands.

Reporting in the March 4 issue of Science, a 15-member team led by University of Oregon and Smithsonian Institution scholars describes the discovery of scores of stemmed projectile points and crescents dating to that time period. The artifacts are linked to the remains of shellfish, seals, geese, cormorants and fish.

Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the team also found thousands of artifacts made from chert, a flint-like rock used to make projectile points and other stone tools.

Some of the intact projectiles are so delicate that their only practical use would have been for hunting on the water, said Jon Erlandson, professor of anthropology and director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. He has been conducting research on the islands for more than 30 years.

"This is among the earliest evidence of seafaring and maritime adaptations in the Americas, and another extension of the diversity of Paleoindian economies," Erlandson said. "The points we are finding are extraordinary, the workmanship amazing. They are ultra thin, serrated and have incredible barbs on them. It's a very sophisticated chipped-stone technology." He also noted that the stemmed points are much different than the iconic fluted points left throughout North America by Clovis and Folsom peoples who hunted big game on land.........

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March 10, 2011, 7:49 AM CT

Some Antarctic Ice is Forming from Bottom

Some Antarctic Ice is Forming from Bottom
Researchers endured extreme wind and cold at a high-elevation field camp near the center of the ice sheet. (Michael Studinger/AGAP)
Researchers working in the remotest part of Antarctica have discovered that liquid water locked deep under the continent's coat of ice regularly thaws and refreezes to the bottom, creating as much as half the thickness of the ice in places, and actively modifying its structure. The finding, which turns common perceptions of glacial formation upside down, could reshape scientists' understanding of how the ice sheet expands and moves, and how it might react to warming climate, they say. The study appears in this week's early online edition of the leading journal Science; it is part of a six-nation study of the invisible Gamburtsev Mountains, which lie buried under as much as two miles of ice.

Ice sheets are well known to grow from the top as snow falls and builds up annual layers over thousands of years, but researchers until recently have known little about the processes going on far below. In 2006, scientists in the current study showed that lakes of liquid water underlie widespread parts of Antarctica. In 2008-2009, they mounted an expedition using geophysical instruments to create 3-D images of the Gamburtsevs, a range larger than the European Alps. The expedition also made detailed images of the overlying ice, and subglacial water.

"We commonly think of ice sheets like cakes--one layer at a time added from the top. This is like someone injected a layer of frosting at the bottom--a really thick layer," said Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and a project co-leader. "Water has always been known to be important to ice sheet dynamics, but mostly as a lubricant. As ice sheets change, we want to predict how they will change. Our results show that models must include water beneath." The Antarctic ice sheet holds enough fresh water to raise ocean levels 200 feet; if even a small part of it were to melt into the ocean, it could put major coastal cities under water.........

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March 7, 2011, 7:30 AM CT

Observing Arctic ice-edge plankton blooms

Observing Arctic ice-edge plankton blooms
"Ice-edge phytoplankton blooms in the Arctic Ocean provide food for planktonic animals called zooplankton, which are in turn exploited by animals higher up the food chain such as fish," explained Dr Andrew Yool, one of the team of NOC researchers.

During the Arctic spring and summer, sea-ice melts and breaks up. Freshwater from melting ice forms a blanket over the denser, saltier water below. This stratification of the water column, along with seasonal sunshine, triggers the appearance of phytoplankton blooms, which often form long but narrow (20-100 km) bands along the receding ice-edge.

Arctic ice-edge blooms have in the past been studied largely during research cruises. These studies have often focused on regions such as the Barents Sea between Norway and the Svalbard Archipelago, and the Bering Shelf bordering Alaska, where blooms are thought to account for 50% or more of biological production.

However, advances in modern satellite technology now offer the opportunity to observe and monitor ice-edge blooms at high spatial resolution over large areas and extended periods of time from space.

"Our aim was to use satellite data to get a synoptic view of ice-edge blooms across the whole Arctic region," said Dr Yool.

To do this, the research team used daily data from the NASA's SeaWiFs satellite, which was launched in 1997. SeaWiFs continuously observes ocean colour (sea-ice, cloud and fog cover permitting), sampling the whole globe every two days. To provide an alternative estimate of bloom occurrence, and an independent check on their findings, the scientists also used data from the MODIS satellite.........

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February 22, 2011, 8:00 AM CT

Volcanoes along Pacific Ocean Seamount Trail

Volcanoes along Pacific Ocean Seamount Trail
Nearly half a mile of rock retrieved from beneath the seafloor is yielding new clues about how underwater volcanoes are created and whether the hotspots that led to their formation have moved over time.

Georesearchers have just completed an expedition to a string of underwater volcanoes, or seamounts, in the Pacific Ocean known as the Louisville Seamount Trail.

There they collected samples of sediments, basalt lava flows and other volcanic eruption materials to piece together the history of this ancient trail of volcanoes.

The expedition was part of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).

"Finding out whether hotspots in Earth's mantle are stationary or not will lead to new knowledge about the basic workings of our planet," says Rodey Batiza, section head for marine geosciences in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences.

Tens of thousands of seamounts exist in the Pacific Ocean. Expedition researchers probed a handful of the most important of these underwater volcanoes.

"We sampled ancient lava flows, and a fossilized algal reef," says Anthony Koppers of Oregon State University. "The samples will be used to study the construction and evolution of individual volcanoes.".........

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February 22, 2011, 7:40 AM CT

First harmful algal bloom species genome sequenced

First harmful algal bloom species genome sequenced
Aureococcus anophagefferens cells of a harmful algal bloom brown tide.

Credit: Chris Gobler, Stony Brook University


The microscopic phytoplankton Aureococcus anophagefferens, which causes devastating brown tides, appears to be tiny but it's proven to be a fierce competitor.

In the first genome sequencing of a harmful algal bloom species, scientists observed that Aureococcus' unique gene complement allows it to outcompete other marine phytoplankton and thrive in human-modified ecosystems, which could help explain the global increases in harmful algal blooms (HABs).

The research team, led by Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in collaboration with researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), will publish its findings online in the February 21 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The brown tides caused by Aureococcus do not produce toxins that poison humans, but the long-lasting blooms are toxic to bivalves and have decimated sea grass beds and shellfisheries leading to billions of dollars in economic losses. The blooms, which had not been documented before 1985, are now chronic, annual events in estuaries along the heavily populated coastlines of the eastern United States and South Africa. While HABs occur naturally, impacts from human activities, such as increased pollutants and excess nutrients from fertilizer runoff, have been associated with the rise in HAB outbreaks. Like a number of other HABs, Aureococcus blooms in shallow estuaries where light levels and inorganic nutrients are low, and organic carbon and nitrogen concentrations are high.........

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February 21, 2011, 7:51 AM CT

Are population estimates off the mark?

Are population estimates off the mark?
"Almost all of the growth in world population will occur in poor countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia," says the Population Council's John Bongaarts. "But larger investments in family planning right now would have a very beneficial impact on human welfare and any environmental issue we care about."

Credit: The Population Council Inc.

In 2011 the Earth's population will reach 7 billion. The United Nations (UN) reports that the total number of people will climb to 9 billion in 2050, peak at 9.5 billion, stabilize temporarily, and then decline. Despite the confidence with which these projections are presented, in an American Association for the Advancement of Science press briefing and presentation today the Population Council's John Bongaarts presents evidence that the actual population trajectory is highly uncertain.

What could happen depends on trends in fertility and mortality�and both variables are complex and not easy to forecast.

With respect to fertility, some analysts assume that the very low levels of childbearing now prevailing in Southern and Eastern Europe, where women have fewer than two children on average, will continue in those countries and spread to other parts of the world. But scholars have different expectations of how rapidly and widely that trend will unfold. If fertility remains higher than the UN projects the world population could exceed 10 billion in 2100.

In terms of mortality, pessimists say that life spans in developed countries are close to the biological limit. However, optimists predict that life expectancy will continue to rise very rapidly, exceeding 100 years before the end of this century. If the optimists are right, the world's population could also exceed 10 billion in 2100. This higher population scenario also has implications for the solvency of social security systems that provide income to the elderly.........

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February 21, 2011, 7:48 AM CT

Black carbon and tropospheric ozone in climate change

Black carbon and tropospheric ozone in climate change
lack carbon (BC) and tropospheric ozone (O3) are harmful air pollutants that also contribute to climate change. The emission of both will continue to negatively impact both human health and climate.

While our scientific understanding of how black carbon and tropospheric ozone affect climate and public health has significantly improved in recent years, the threat posed by these pollutants has catalysed a demand for knowledge and concrete action from governments, civil society, United Nations (UN) agencies and other stakeholders.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was requested to urgently provide science-based advice on actions to reduce the impact of these pollutants and the Integrated Evaluation of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone is the result. Its main findings are:
    .
  1. A small number of emissions reduction measures targeting black carbon and tropospheric ozone could immediately begin to protect climate, public health, water and food security, and ecosystems. These measures target fossil fuel extraction, residential cooking and heating, diesel vehicles, waste management, agriculture and small industries. Full implementation is achievable with existing technology but would require significant and strategic investment as well as institutional arrangements.........

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February 21, 2011, 7:31 AM CT

Is it safe to drink?

Is it safe to drink?
"Over the last couple of generations, there has been a huge amount of groundwater pollution worldwide, and this has had a negative impact on our drinking water supply," says Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Canada Research Chair in Isotope Geochemistry of the Earth and the Environment at the University of Toronto.

Sherwood Lollar is taking part in the THINK CANADA Press Breakfast Sunday at AAAS. Her research examines society's efforts to reverse and stop groundwater pollution, and the effectiveness of bioremediation technologies�using microbes to clean up organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline or diesel) or chemicals used in the electronics or transportation industries.

While the disposal of these organic contaminants tends to be well regulated today, this has not always been the case. Lax regulations and enforcement during the period immediately after the Second World War has left Europe and North America with a legacy of past contamination.

"This contamination has had a pervasive impact on the environment," says Sherwood Lollar. "It is still out there, and it needs to be dealt with".

Over the past decade, a number of techniques used to clean up groundwater contamination have harnessed the power of microbiology and the work of geochemists like Sherwood Lollar. "We are not genetically engineering microbes," she explains. "In a number of settings, naturally occurring microbes feed off the organic contaminants and, in the process, convert them to non-toxic end products".........

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February 21, 2011, 7:26 AM CT

New study illustrates shifting biomes in Alaska

New study illustrates shifting biomes in Alaska
newly released study released recently in the EarlyView of Ecology Letters addresses forest productivity trends in Alaska, highlighting a shift in biomes caused by a warming climate. The findings, conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center and three other institutions based in Alaska and France, linked satellite observations with an extensive and unique tree-ring data set. Patterns observed support current hypotheses regarding increased growth of evergreen forest at the margins of present tundra and declining productivity at the margins of temperate forest to the south. This study provides a regional picture of forest productivity which did not previously exist.

As per main author Pieter Beck, a post-doctoral fellow at WHRC, "The results provide evidence for the initiation of a biome shift in response to climate change, and indicate that some ecosystem models appears to be missing fundamental changes taking place in the circumpolar region." .

He adds that "while the findings contrast with some recent model predictions of increased high latitude vegetation productivity, they are consistent with longer-term projections of global vegetation models".

Scott Goetz, a senior scientist at WHRC, proposed the study and co-authored the manuscript. He says, "Most people don't think of high latitudes forests as being drought stressed - and they are not in the traditional sense of having soils dry up and blow away - but their growth is negatively impacted by hot dry air masses and those have increased in recent years. This paper shows those drought impacts are captured in both the satellite and the tree ring record. Of course the tree rings go back in time much further than the satellite observations, which only extend about 30 years, but the changes that we observe from satellites are clearly supported not only by the tree rings but also by carbon isotope analysis of the wood."........

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February 3, 2011, 7:51 AM CT

Field study of smoggy inversions to end

Field study of smoggy inversions to end
Motorized glider pilot Chris Santacroce ascends toward Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range above Salt Lake City with automated weather sensors attached to his helmet. He was a volunteer in a two-month field campaign to study temperature inversions that trap smog in the urban Salt Lake Valley. The field work was ending Feb. 7, 2011, and scientists from the University of Utah and other institutions planned to spend the next two years analyzing the data.

Credit: Amanda Oliver, University of Utah

During the past two months, scientists launched weather balloons, drove instrument-laden cars and flew a glider to study winter inversions that often choke Salt Lake City in smog and trap dirty air in other urban basins worldwide.

The field campaign � part of a three-year study by the University of Utah and other institutions � ends Monday, Feb. 7 as atmospheric researchers begin analyzing data they collected to learn how weather conditions contribute to inversions, which occur when warmer air aloft holds cold air near the ground, trapping pollutants.

"Our study applies to urban basins around the world, any location with a lot of people and mountains nearby," says John Horel, a University of Utah professor of atmospheric sciences and one of the principal researchers for the study.

"Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tehran and Mexico City experience these winter inversions and cold-air pools. Unfortunately, one of the advantages of studying them in Salt Lake City is just how frequently they occur here".

Salt Lake City residents already have experienced more than 20 days with air pollution levels exceeding federal standards this winter, and on some smoggy days, the city has the nation's dirtiest air.

Some 50 scientists and volunteers from the University of Utah and other institutions are wrapping up the two-month monitoring program to better understand the winter weather conditions frequently linked to inversions � known as cold-air pools by meteorologists � and the resulting poor air quality.........

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February 2, 2011, 7:53 AM CT

Ice Cores Yield Rich History of Climate Change

Ice Cores Yield Rich History of Climate Change
On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth's climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS). The project will be completed over the next two years with some additional coring and borehole logging to obtain additional information and samples of the ice for the study of the climate record contained in the core.

As part of the project, begun six years ago, the team, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth's climate over time.

Friday's milestone was reached at a depth of 3,331 meters--about two miles deep--creating the deepest ice core ever drilled by the U.S. and the second deepest ice core ever drilled by any group, second only to the ice core drilled at Russia's Vostok Station as part of a joint French/U.S./Russian collaboration in the 1990s.

"By improving our understanding of how natural changes in greenhouse gas influenced climate in the past, the science community will be able to do a better job of predicting future climate changes caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity," said Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project.........

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January 28, 2011, 7:40 PM CT

Precise way to monitor ocean wave behavior

Precise way to monitor ocean wave behavior
Engineers have created a new type of "stereo vision" to use in studying ocean waves as they pound against the shore, providing a better way to understand and monitor this violent, ever-changing environment.

The approach, which uses two video cameras to feed data into an advanced computer system, can observe large areas of ocean waves in real time and help explain what they are doing and why, researchers say.

The system appears to be of particular value as climate change and rising sea levels pose additional challenges to vulnerable shorelines around the world, threatened by coastal erosion. The technology should be comparatively simple and inexpensive to implement.

"An ocean wave crashing on shore is actually the end of a long story that commonly begins thousands of miles away, formed by wind and storms," said David Hill, an associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State University. "We're trying to achieve with cameras and a computer what human eyes and the brain do automatically - see the way that near-shore waves grow, change direction and collapse as they move over a seafloor that changes depth constantly".

This is the first attempt to use stereo optical imaging in a marine field setting on such a large scale, Hill said, and offers the potential to provide a constant and scientifically accurate understanding of what is going on in the surf zone. It's also a form of remote sensing that doesn't require placement of instruments in the pounding surf environment.........

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January 28, 2011, 7:25 PM CT

Ecology-evolution dynamic

Ecology-evolution dynamic
Thomas Schoener's paper in the Jan. 28 issue of Science is based on his talk, "The Newest Synthesis: Evolution + Ecology = EvoEco," at the Darwin/Chicago 2009 conference. Darwin conference videos are here: http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/List%20of%20Video%20Talks.html.

Credit: University of Chicago

Ecology drives evolution. In today's issue of the journal Science, UC Davis expert Thomas Schoener describes growing evidence that the reverse is also true, and explores what that might mean to our understanding of how environmental change affects species and vice-versa.

A classic example of ecology influencing evolution is seen in a Gal�pagos ground finch, Geospiza fortis. In this species, larger beaks dominated the population after dry years when large seeds were more abundant. After wet years, the direction of natural selection reversed, favoring smaller beaks that better handled the small seeds produced in the wet environment.

Environmental factors had given birds with certain genes a survival advantage.

But does evolution affect ecology over similar time scales? Researchers are increasingly thinking that the answer is yes, says Schoener, who points toward numerous examples of organisms evolving rapidly. This sets the stage for the possibility that evolutionary dynamics routinely interact with ecological dynamics.

Schoener writes: "If ecology affects evolution (long supported) and evolution affects ecology (becoming increasingly supported), then what? The transformed ecology might affect evolution, and so on, back and forth in a feedback loop".........

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January 28, 2011, 7:12 PM CT

Physics-Based Space Weather Model

Physics-Based Space Weather Model
The first large-scale, physics-based space weather prediction model is transitioning from research into operation.

Researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM) and the National Weather Service reported the news today at the annual American Meteorological Society (AMS) meeting in Seattle, Wash.

The model will provide forecasters with a one-to-four day advance warning of high speed streams of solar plasma and Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

These streams from the Sun may severely disrupt or damage space- and ground-based communications systems, and pose hazards to satellite operations.

CISM is an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) made up of 11 member institutions. Established in 2002, CISM scientists address the emerging system-science of Sun-to-Earth space weather.

The research-to-operations transition has been enabled by an unprecedented partnership between the Boston University-led CISM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center.

"It's very exciting to pioneer a path from research to operations in space weather," says scientist Jeffrey Hughes of Boston University, CISM's director. "The science is having a real impact on the practical problem of predicting when 'solar storms' will affect us here on Earth.".........

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January 28, 2011, 7:59 AM CT

Cow rumen for better biofuels enzymes

Cow rumen for better biofuels enzymes
The researchers placed mesh bags of switchgrass in the cow rumen to isolate those microbes that adhere to the grass and the microbial enzymes that help break down plant biomass. This effort yielded dozens of new candidate enzymes for biofuel production.

Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

When it comes to breaking down plant matter and converting it to energy, the cow has it all figured out. Its digestive system allows it to eat more than 150 pounds of plant matter every day. Now scientists report that they have found dozens of previously unknown microbial enzymes in the bovine rumen � the cow's primary grass-digestion chamber � that contribute to the breakdown of switchgrass, a renewable biofuel energy source.

The study, in the journal Science, tackles a major barrier to the development of more affordable and environmentally sustainable biofuels. Rather than relying on the fermentation of simple sugars in food crops such as corn, beets or sugar cane (which is environmentally costly and threatens the food supply) scientists are looking for better ways to convert the leaves and stems of grasses or woody plants to liquid fuel. These "second-generation" biofuels ideally will be "carbon neutral," absorbing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is emitted in their processing and use.

But breaking down and releasing the energy in the plant cell wall is no easy task.

"The problem with second-generation biofuels is the problem of unlocking the soluble fermentable sugars that are in the plant cell wall," said University of Illinois animal sciences professor Roderick Mackie, an author on the study whose research into the microbial life of the bovine rumen set the stage for the new approach. "The cow's been doing that for millions of years. And we want to examine the mechanisms that the cow uses to find enzymes for application in the biofuels industry".........

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January 28, 2011, 7:56 AM CT

Ecosystems and Fishing in Northwest Mexico

Ecosystems and Fishing in Northwest Mexico
Fisherman on small boats return to Golfo de Santa Clara with gulf corvina fish.
Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have completed a newly released study on the geography of commercial fisheries in Northwest Mexico and the results could have far-ranging implications for the sustainable future of marine wildlife in the area.

The scientists, led by Scripps postdoctoral researcher Brad Erisman, analyzed data from local fisheries offices around the region that includes Baja California as well as Gulf of California coasts from Sonora south to Nayarit. The region accounts for more than 60 percent of fishing production in Mexico.

The scientists' goal was to detect any patterns between the geography of the species and their habitats in Northwest Mexico, and the localized fishing information revealed in the data. After poring over the data the scientists found clear-cut overlapping patterns in their analysis and used the results to create a new map proposing five clearly defined fishery sub-regions around Northwest Mexico.

While fisheries resources in Northwest Mexico are currently managed as one homogeneous area, the researchers' proposed sub-regions differentiate between areas rich in mangroves versus rocky shores, reefs versus soft sea bottoms, as well as temperate versus tropical regions, and geological features distinguishing west and east.........

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January 25, 2011, 7:31 AM CT

Debris on certain Himalayan glaciers

Debris on certain Himalayan glaciers
These are crevasses of a steep glacier in the Sutlej Valley of the Western Himalaya. This glacier has a debris-covered toe.

Credit: Bodo Bookhagen, UCSB

A new scientific study shows that debris coverage �� pebbles, rocks, and debris from surrounding mountains �� appears to be a missing link in the understanding of the decline of glaciers. Debris is distinct from soot and dust, as per the scientists.

Melting of glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains affects water supplies for hundreds of millions of people living in South and Central Asia. Experts have stated that global warming is a key element in the melting of glaciers worldwide.

Bodo Bookhagen, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at UC Santa Barbara, co-authored a paper on this topic in Nature Geoscience, published this week. The first author is Dirk Scherler, Bookhagen's graduate student from Gera number of, who performed part of this research while studying at UCSB.

"With the aid of new remote-sensing methods and satellite images, we identified debris coverage to be an important contributor to glacial advance and retreat behaviors," said Bookhagen. "This parameter has been almost completely neglected in prior Himalayan and other mountainous region studies, eventhough its impact has been known for some time".

The finding is one more element in a worldwide political controversy involving global warming. "Controversy about the current state and future evolution of Himalayan glaciers has been stirred up by erroneous reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," as per the paper.........

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January 16, 2011, 10:15 PM CT

New Farming Method to Reduce Greenhouse Gases,

New Farming Method to Reduce Greenhouse Gases,
Kelly Nelson is a research agronomist and associate professor in the MU Division of Plant Sciences
U.S. agricultural practices create 58 percent of nitrous oxide in the world, which is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Researchers believe nitrous oxide contributes to global warming about 300 times more than carbon dioxide. New practices and products have been introduced to address this issue, but farmers do not have the time or profit margins to experiment with ideas that may ultimately hurt the "bottom line." Now, scientists at the University of Missouri have found methods to help farmers reduce those emissions while also increasing corn grain production.

At the University of Missouri Greenley Research Center in northeast Missouri, Kelly Nelson, a research agronomist and associate professor in the MU Division of Plant Sciences, monitored fields of poorly drained claypan soil that were planted with corn after soybean. One field was "strip tilled" with nitrogen fertilizer placed in a band in the soil, while another field was left untilled with a surface application of nitrogen fertilizer. The research team observed that strip tillage and banded fertilizer significantly reduced the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per bushel of corn grain production, when in comparison to that of surface applied no-till therapys.

Strip tillage is the practice of tilling a field in strips up to a foot wide and eight to nine inches deep, rather than tilling the entire field, so that crop residues can be left on the surface of most of the field. By planting corn into those strips, and adding fertilizer during the process, farmers can use less energy, reduce soil erosion and conserve soil moisture in a large area of the field. Additionally, the nitrogen stays deep in the soil, where it less susceptible to environmental loss.........

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January 16, 2011, 9:20 PM CT

Warming climate means red deer rutting season arrives early

Warming climate means red deer rutting season arrives early
Wild red deer on the Isle of Rum, which were featured in the BBC TV series Autumnwatch, are rutting earlier in the year, a study shows.

Researchers believe the annual rutting season on the Isle of Rum could be changing because of warming spring and summer temperatures. The study shows that the rutting and calving seasons are now up to two weeks earlier on average compared with 30 years ago.

The research was based on a 38-year study of the ecology of red deer on the Isle of Rum and used annual records of breeding success in more than 3,000 individually recognisable deer.

Researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, who maintained the long-term research, say this provides rare evidence that warming temperatures are affecting the behaviour of British mammals.

Dr Dan Nussey of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who participated in the study, said: "Eventhough a number of kinds of plants and animals are known to be reproducing earlier, evidence that this is happening in large mammals is very unusual. However, we still do not know exactly what is causing these changes in the timing of the deer's annual cycle. Much more work is needed to understand whether similar changes are taking place in deer populations elsewhere, and what the implications of such changes will be".........

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January 16, 2011, 9:09 PM CT

Dramatic ocean circulation changes

Dramatic ocean circulation changes
Picture from the research ship.

Credit: Cardiff University

The uncommonly cold weather this winter has been caused by a change in the winds.

Instead of the typical westerly winds warmed by Atlantic surface ocean currents, cold northerly Arctic winds are influencing much of Europe.

However, researchers have long suspected that far more severe and longer-lasting cold intervals have been caused by changes to the circulation of the warm Atlantic ocean currents themselves.

Now new research led by Cardiff University, with researchers in the UK and US, reveals that these ocean circulation changes may have been more dramatic than previously thought.

The findings, published recently (14 January 2011) in the journal Science, show that as the last Ice Age came to an end (10,000 - 20,000 years ago) the formation of deep water in the North-East Atlantic repeatedly switched on and off. This caused the climate to warm and cool for centuries at a time.

The circulation of the world's ocean helps to regulate the global climate. One way it does this is through the transport of heat carried by vast ocean currents, which together form the 'Great ocean conveyor'. Key to this conveyor is the sinking of water in the North-East Atlantic, a process that causes warm tropical waters to flow northwards in order to replace the sinking water. Europe is kept warmer by this circulation, so that a strong reduction in the rate at which deep water forms can cause widespread cooling of up to 10 degrees Celsius.........

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January 16, 2011, 9:03 PM CT

Advancing understanding of climate change

Advancing understanding of climate change
Better satellite instruments are improving measurements of solar energy reaching Earth, scientists report in Geophysical Research Letters. Exactly determining the contribution of solar fluctuations to rising global temperature is expected to become possible as new instruments, such as the Total Irradiance Monitor above, further refine solar measurements. The device is scheduled to launch next month on NASA's Glory spacecraft.

Credit: NASA

Researchers have taken a major step toward accurately determining the amount of energy that the sun provides to Earth, and how variations in that energy may contribute to climate change.

In a newly released study of laboratory and satellite data, scientists report a lower value of that energy, known as total solar irradiance, than previously measured and demonstrate that the satellite instrument that made the measurement�which has a new optical design and was calibrated in a new way�has significantly improved the accuracy and consistency of such measurements.

The new findings give confidence, the scientists say, that other, newer satellites expected to launch starting early this year will measure total solar irradiance with adequate repeatability � and with little enough uncertainty � to help resolve the long-standing question of how significant a contributor solar fluctuations are to the rising average global temperature of the planet.

"Improved accuracies and stabilities in the long-term total solar irradiance record mean improved estimates of the sun's influence on Earth's climate," said Greg Kopp.

of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Kopp, who led the study, and Judith Lean of the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, D.C., published their findings today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.........

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January 16, 2011, 8:51 PM CT

Choosing organic milk

Choosing organic milk
Gillian Butler with cows at Newcastle University's Nafferton Farm, Northumberland.

Credit: Newcastle University


Wetter, cooler summers can have a detrimental effect on the milk we drink, according to new research published by Newcastle University.

Researchers found milk collected during a particularly poor UK summer and the following winter had significantly higher saturated fat content and far less beneficial fatty acids than in a more 'normal' year.

But they also discovered that switching to organic milk could help overcome these problems. Organic supermarket milk showed higher levels of nutritionally beneficial fatty acids compared with 'ordinary' milk regardless of the time of year or weather conditions.

The study, which is published in this month's Journal of Dairy Science (January 2011), leads on from previous research undertaken nearly three years ago which looked at the difference between organic and conventional milk at its source � on the farms.

"We wanted to check if what we found on farms also applies to milk available in the shops," said Gillian Butler, who led the study. "Surprisingly, the differences between organic and conventional milk were even more marked. Whereas on the farms the benefits of organic milk were proven in the summer but not the winter, in the supermarkets it is significantly better quality year round".

There was also greater consistency between organic suppliers, where the conventional milk brands were of variable quality.........

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January 16, 2011, 10:43 AM CT

Close-Up Look at Old Man Winter

Close-Up Look at Old Man Winter
In this winter of heavy snows--with more on the way this week--nature's bull's-eye might be Oswego, N.Y., and the nearby Tug Hill Plateau.

There the proximity of the Great Lakes whips wind and snow into high gear. Old Man Winter then blows across New York state, burying cities and towns in snowdrifts several feet high. This season, however, something is standing in his way.

The Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW), a data-collecting radar dish, is waiting. This month and next, researchers inside the DOW are tracking snowstorms in and around Oswego to learn what drives lake-effect snowstorms that form parallel to the long axis of a Great Lake and produce enormous snowfall rates.

These long lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) bands of snow are more intense than those of other snow squalls and produce some of the highest snowfall rates and amounts in the world, say atmospheric researchers Scott Steiger of the State University of New York (SUNY)-Oswego, Jeffrey Frame of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Alfred Stamm of SUNY-Oswego.

"The mobility of a DOW," Steiger says, "is ideal for following lake-effect storms. The DOW will allow us to witness them as they form and cross lakes, which other weather radars can't do.".

The DOW, or more properly "DOWs" as there are three, is a National Science Foundation (NSF) atmospheric science facility.........

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January 16, 2011, 10:30 AM CT

Earth's Hot Past: Prologue to Future Climate?

Earth's Hot Past: Prologue to Future Climate?
The magnitude of climate change during Earth's deep past suggests that future temperatures may eventually rise far more than projected if society continues its pace of emitting greenhouse gases, a new analysis concludes.

The study, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jeffrey Kiehl, will appear as a "Perspectives" article in this week's issue of the journal Science

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.

Building on recent research, the study examines the relationship between global temperatures and high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere tens of millions of years ago.

It warns that, if carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate through the end of this century, atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas will reach levels that existed about 30 million to 100 million years ago.

Global temperatures then averaged about 29 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels.

Kiehl said that global temperatures may take centuries or millennia to fully adjust in response to the higher carbon dioxide levels.

Accorning to the study and based on recent computer model studies of geochemical processes, elevated levels of carbon dioxide may remain in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.........

Posted by: Tyler      Read more         Source

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